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Interview: Mamoru Hosoda, Director of Wolf Children

by Chih-Chieh Chang,

Q: Wolf Children uses both 2D and 3D animation. Which parts of the movie were more suitable for either 2D or 3D animation, and how do you make that choice? How does 3D technology make Japanese animation – of which 2D is still the mainstream – better?

Mamoru Hosoda: Most animation nowadays produced outside Japan is 3D-based. To me, however, either 2D or 3D is a tool, a technology, or a method, and neither is superior to the other. Personally I prefer the feeling of hand-drawn animation, though. I do acknowledge that some expensive visual effects are more suitable to be done with 3D technology, but I still would like to present a movie with a hand-drawn feel.

In the case of Wolf Children, however, 3D animation wasn't used for spectacular effects, but in day-to-day scenes instead, such as water ripples created by raindrops, or how wind blows.

All of your three most recent movies (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children) centered around a female protagonist. Why?

I like the idea of using female protagonists because most lives of men are focused on the success or failure of their careers, while other big events, like marriages and raising children, play bigger parts in the lives of women, leaving more space for artistic creation.

Will you continue using Toyama Prefecture – your birthplace – for the setting of your original stories?

I lived and grew up in Toyama Prefecture until graduating from high school at the age of 18. Since this movie features a mother as its protagonist, I tried to see things from my mother's point of view while creating Wolf Children, thus using my own hometown would be more honest and responsible to myself. In the case of Summer Wars, however, the background was set in Nagano Prefecture, my wife's hometown.

After experiencing and overcoming so many obstacles and hardships in your path of becoming an animator / director, would you still recommend young aspiring artists to take the path of becoming an animator? If so, what would you tell them?

As each person has his or her own plans for their career and their life, I am not exactly in a place to recommend others to be or not to be an animator. In my personal case, though, I find seeing my sketches become animated very enjoyable. After becoming a director, the fact that I can witness the maturation and materialization of my creation earlier than other staff is always heartwarming.

I started producing movies on 8mm films back in my middle school days. Modern technologies have made movie-making tools more readily available, so I encourage young people to make their own animation. Furthermore, I love watching short animated movies, as movies don't lie and audiences can feel what kind of person the director is and what's in his/her mind. You'll become addicted once you've started animating (laugh).

Both Summer Wars and Wolf Children are completely original stories. What have inspired you to write those stories? Were they part of your personal experience?

I just got married not long before directing Summer Wars. Seeing complete strangers becoming your relatives was a fascinating experience, and that inspired me while making this movie. As for Wolf Children, both my wife and I love children, yet raising one is not an easy task. The birth of every child is a miracle, and I tried to make the feeling of raising children into a movie.

What's your most favorite scene and character in the three movies?

I love the protagonists the most, just like most audiences would do. I have to refine setting details of a character according to targeted audiences. For example, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has to be tailored for high school student audiences. Personally I like characters struggling for life energetically. As for movie scenes, I love the running scene near the end of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and the snowy mountain-climbing scene of Wolf Children.

You just said you like energetic characters, but the male lead of Summer Wars doesn't seem very "energetic." Tell us more about this character.

All characters in Summer Wars are protagonists (laugh)! I love the part when they started "preparing for war" i.e. moving computer equipment, preparing food, and Kenji was moved by people around him, giving him a chance to break his own limits.

Wolves have a stereotypical image of being cunning and ferocious animals. Why did you choose wolves, instead of other animals, to be the central theme of Wolf Children?

Wolves are sensitive animals and are neither "good" or "bad;" such negative images were created back in the Middle Ages of Christianity. Before Meiji Era of Japan, wolves were believed to provide protection to people walking at night, and many Shinto shrines have wolves as deities. After Meiji Era, however, many imported concepts have changed the Japanese perception of wolves. It's a pity that Japanese (Honshū) wolves went extinct over a century ago.

Were you trying to change people's perception of wolves?

Instead of changing how people think of wolves, I'd rather present a different way of life and survival, so audiences might start wondering "what's the most cherished value or subject of my life?" "what kind of life I want to live with?" "what should I protect, defend, and guard with my life?"

Wolves have been mystical to humans. We'd use wolves to describe human behaviors e.g. "lone wolf," but we don't do so with animals like, say, giraffes. That makes wolves charismatic and special.

Why did you choose science fiction and fantasy themes in movies emphasizing human relationships?

People easily ignore what the most important or cherished things are in their day-to-day lives. By incorporating science fiction and fantasy elements, audiences are more likely to discover what they don't notice normally. I hope audiences can see beyond spectacular visual effects and see what's most important value for themselves.

Both stories of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars have a rather short time span (days), yet Wolf Children spans over 13 years. Why did you choose to create a story with such a long span of time?

It's not common to see such a long time span for movies, but I find it necessary as the protagonist is a mother. Parenthood starts at the birth of a child, yet the mission is not over until the child can become independent. Therefore, 13 years are necessary to tell the story completely.

Back in 2003, you created a short animation called Superflat Monogram in collaboration with Takashi Murakami. Tell us how you feel about that film.

It was exactly a decade ago when Superflat Monogram reached the final stage of production. Back then, Louis Vuitton had no animated commercials, and Superflat Monogram was the first. While Mr. Murakami was a controversial personality in Japan, I like both his skill and his creations, and collaborating with him was an enjoyable experience.

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